iGEM and After iGEM: Enabling change-makers through synthetic biology

February 14, 2019

The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of synthetic biology, education and competition, and the development of an open community and collaboration. The iGEM competition provides students around the globe with the opportunity to pursue projects that address unique challenges within their local community within a multidisciplinary environment. Through the competition, iGEM inspires responsible innovation through efforts in biosafety, biosecurity, and public outreach.

This past October, over 6,000 students from 45 countries around the world gathered at the Hynes Convention Centre in Boston for the annual International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) Giant Jamboree. Among the 340 participating international teams, 16 Canadian teams (13 collegiate and 3 high school teams) participated in the competition, showcased their innovative iGEM projects, and excelled at the iGEM Giant Jamboree. Collaborating in multidisciplinary teams, students have designed, built, tested, and measured a system of their own design using interchangeable biological parts and standard molecular biology techniques. These students have worked all summer long, pushing the boundaries of synthetic biology by tackling everyday issues facing the world through innovative projects.

The Canadian iGEM teams worked on a diverse range of projects with positive impacts on the field of synthetic biology and the world. Some projects aimed to find novel solutions to technical problems surrounding core synthetic biology technologies. From investigating mammalian cell-cell interactions to optimizing the FLIP Recombinase system to using optogenetics to regulate the cells and bacteria co-cultures, and then to building protein nano-compartments for the delivery of biological cargo, Canadian iGEM teams are generating innovations that will improve the synthetic biology toolkit. Canadian iGEM teams are also finding solutions to various social and environmental issues, addressing local problems such as aluminum toxicity in lakes and waters, fungal parasites infecting honeybees, plastic waste, fatbergs, and contaminated tailing ponds by using the synthetic biology toolkit to generate unique solutions to tackle these real-world problems. Having identified inefficiencies within industries such as beer-brewing, bioremediation processes, and drug production (cancer drugs and EpiPen), these students have also undertaken initiatives aimed to improve these processes through the use of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology enable teams to create advances in medicine such as a bacterial model to study protein aggregation for Alzheimer’s Disease and biosensors for the detection of glucocorticoid hormones. These various iGEM projects demonstrate the impact that iGEM has on the development of synthetic biology. By engaging students in synthetic biology research, we hope to build a better world by solving problems with this technology, inspiring responsible innovation, and setting standards such as our open source standardized genetic parts. These novel and impactful projects reflect the strong interest that students have in synthetic biology across Canada and the potential of their projects to solve real-world problems. These projects from 2018 are just a few examples of the inspiring projects that Canadian iGEM teams. There are many more iGEM projects that Canadian iGEMers have undertaken over the years.

Since its inception in 2004, over 30,000 iGEMers have gone through the competition. In Canada alone, there are hundreds of iGEMers that have participated in the competition. This global network of trailblazers is leading the field of synthetic biology. As the community continues to grow, the iGEM Foundation is working to support the international community of iGEMers in continuing and expanding their impact on the world beyond the competition with the launch of the global After iGEM Program. To support students in sharing their research with the rest of the academic community, After iGEM and Ontario Genomics have collaborated to organize a poster showcase during the 2019 Canada SynBio conference. To facilitate the networking and exchange of ideas between synthetic biology enthusiasts and iGEMers, After iGEM will be hosting a reception on Mar 5th, 2019 in Toronto Ontario. To register, please click here. iGEM and After iGEM are excited to bring

As the 2019 iGEM season progresses, we are excited to see the innovation and impact that iGEM teams in Canada will bring! We also look forward to connecting and working with more synthetic biology enthusiasts in the community to propel the advancement of synthetic biology in Canada.